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199. Fighting Tuberculosis and Embarassment

Listening to a patient for tuberculosis

Near the dawn of the 19th century medicine advanced inwards. Doctors began once more to diagnose problems with the heart and lungs by placing their ears against the bodies of patients and listening intently. This practice had been used since the time of the Greeks but recent advances had returned to frequent usage. This new body of science was in its infancy and doctors had great trouble listening to internal problems and keeping abreast of developments in the understanding of the human interior. Then it was improved by chance and embarrassment.

The Doctor René Theophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec was busy at work in the nineteenth century, doing nineteenth century things when he was presented with a chest problems. It was a young and rather plump lady, who was followed by her family. They lined the room as the young lady told of her suffering. For a decent diagnosis, he needed to listen to her lungs.

Under the watchful gaze of the family and the pressure of nineteenth century sensibilities he felt suddenly aware of how uncomfortably close he would have to place his head to her bosom, so he improvised. He grabbed a nearby piece of paper and rolled it up into a tube and placing the paper purposefully on her skin. To his shock when he listened, the sounds were much clearer. The lazy lungs breathing and the nervous heart beating.

That day, in 1816, the stethoscope was invented. Over time they became less papery and more trumpet-like. So it was until 1851 when a binaural stethoscope, one allowing the use of both ears, was introduced. Designs similar to the ones still used today, or so I hear.

Further Reading:

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Articles

 

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196. Underneath the Lake

Witley Park lies in the county of Surrey, England. In 1889 it was founded by Whitaker Wright, a man who had made a fortune in the oil business. For himself he constructed a grand house with a theatre, ballroom and artificial lakes. In 1904 he took his own life and the estate changed hands.

In its current state some parts have been modernised and other left to disintegrate but certain fantastical parts of the park have stood the test of time.

There were two additional rooms on the estate, but they were less noticeable than one might expect. In one tree on the estate there is a door. Go through the door and navigate the sinking subterranean stairs. Next you commandeer a small boat and take a rowing trip. Then a large pair of doors appear, open them and see the majesty of a whole room, underground.

The glass a vivid yellow fills in the dome above. Covering it is a layer of algae obscuring the magnificent view of the artificial lake. It is ballroom and exists to this day. In fact the second room does as well. If one continues on through the ballroom you will reach a second room enshrined in glass, a conservatory. A place where guests could relax and watch fish swim by. Now that, too, is garnished in a fine layer of green grime.

Those lonely, lost, lake-laden rooms languish once more in obscurity. Witley Park used to be a place for courses and conferences, astounding many visitors but now it is now private property. This iconic and ethereal sight shall remain one man’s pleasure for a while longer. At least we have the photographs.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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194. The High House

Reachable thanks to the violent and thorough application of nunchuksIn 2004 some developers planned a shopping complex in the Chinese municipality of Chongqing. As per normal they bought the land and swiftly evicted the 280 home owners, however they met resistance in the  form of Wu Ping and her husband, Yang Wu. The ever calm 49-year-old Wu Ping and supporting Yang Wu decided to not leave. Instead they settled down in their two-storey brick house while the land around them was scraped clean.

The developers were impatient and even began to excavate the land around the house; still, Wu Ping and Yang Wu stayed in their house. While the ground fell away from around their humble abode the developers apparently threatened the pair by sending up thugs, presumably thugs of the threatening kind. The oddity of the case and the bravado displayed meant news of the case spread far and wide. The image of a single house on a column of earth became synonymous with the struggle between citizens and property developers in an aggressively modernising China. As Wu Ping said:

“I’m not stubborn or unruly, I’m just trying to protect my personal rights as a citizen.”

Fortunately Wu Ping’s husband was more than able to help. Being a martial arts champion he threatened to beat up any authorities approaching the house. He also happened to be a practical and fairly determined individual. For simpler access to the house he cut stairs winding up the 10 muddy metres to the house. How? With the violent and thorough application of his personal nunchuks to the soft earth.

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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Articles

 

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192. The Famous Nameless Face

In 19th Century Paris, just as with any other time in Paris, there were many suicides. In Paris, the Seine was a favourite, at a time when most could not swim the large river was often a death sentence. Whenever a body drifted onto the banks of the river, it was put in the care of the authorities. In 19th Century Paris they had a special practice to identify these damp deceased.

A cooled room was set up and up to 14 bodies placed within it. At one end of the room was a large window, any passer-by could peer inside and, hopefully, identify one of them. Parisians and travellers alike were fixated by the chilling sight, neatly arranged bodies only slightly too still to be sleeping. In the volume ‘Unknown Paris’ it was noted that:

“There is not a single window in Paris which attracts more onlookers than this.”

In the 1880’s there was one particular body. She was dragged from the Seine with not a scratch or spot. Suicide they said. The body was presented behind a window and the people peered at the restful smile which sat across the features. No name came and the body rotted, it was placed in an unmarked grave, but the smile remained. An unknown pathologist had been so taken by the beauty that they decided to take the beauty. A plaster cast mould of the face was taken and a death mask made, an object to preserve the image of one deceased. Through odd contrivances and circumstances now lost to time the mask got out and garnered a following. The face became famous. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Articles

 

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190. Putting the ‘ash’ in Cash

In 1991, the best-selling singles act in the world was ‘The KLF,’ a duo consisting of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. This UK-based group engaged in varied activities and made a point of both mocking the music industry as a whole and not earning a single thing. During their short careers neither one of the pair made any money, instead putting all of their earnings back into increasingly lavish productions. Through the early 90’s their popularity soared with the release of their number one hit ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’ which mashed together the Doctor Who theme with Rock and Roll (Part Two) and other popular songs of the era. The hit was slated by critics universally but still managed to reach the top ten in Australia and Norway.

The end of the peculiar ride came with an incendiary performance by The KLF at the Brit Awards. They joined up with the band Extreme Noise Terror and, on prime-time television and performed a thrash metal version of their popular song ‘3.am eternal.’ Bill Drummond was on crutches screaming the lyrics into the microphone. He then hobbled off stage and came back on with a large automatic machine gun and a cigar, for effect. He then fired blanks into the audience which panicked. At the end they left the stage and the announcer declared:

“The KLF have now left the music Industry.”

This turned out to be very prescient as later that year the pair retired swiftly and entirely. Then they had a problem. Over the next few months their music still was bringing them money, but they didn’t want to make a profit. By 1993 they had £1,000,000 between them, so they set up the ‘K – Foundation.’ It was initially a fund to help struggling artists but then, true to form they decided against it.

“We realised that struggling artists are supposed to struggle, that’s the whole point.”

Their first deed, nailing all of the money to a pine frame, but no galleries would exhibit it. They considered taking it to Russia by train but no company was willing to insure it. They were at a loss as to what to do when in 1994 they had an idea. In a café they were trying to decide what to spend the money on, then they scrapped that. They would burn it.

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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in Articles

 

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189. Dastardly Disco Fever

From the 7th to the  17th Century, mainland Europe was home to a peculiar and occasionally fatal condition, dancing mania. It was no disease, no bacteria, no virus. A particularly human condition, a social phenomenon. There are a few known cases, spread widely. It affected thousands of individuals, how and why this happened, unknown.

It really got moving in 1374, the first major outbreak occurred in Aachen, Germany. After that it spread around Europe. The first step of the dancing plague was often an individual. France, 1518, a woman called Frau Troffea took to the warm July air and danced the streets of Strasbourg. This fervent flailing went on for six days, by the end of that 34 other dancers were going toe-to-toe with the fever.

The numbers swelled, as they normally do. By the end of the month there were some 400 dancers on the streets. In the 1518 epidemic local physicians concluded the whole case was the result of ‘hot blood.’ The council even stepped in and attempted to alleviate the condition. The solution to dancing, was more dancing.

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Posted by on October 21, 2011 in Articles

 

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188. Death by Utopia

Calhoun relaxing in Universe 25

In the late 20th Century, John B. Calhoun decided to make Utopia; it started with rats. In 1947 he began to watch a colony of Norway rats, over 28 months he noticed something, in that time the population could have increased to 50,000 rats, but instead it never even rose above 200. Then he noticed that the colony split into smaller groups of 12, any more and groups would split apart. He continued to study rats up until 1954. Then in 1958, he made his first lab.

He bought the second floor of a barn, and there he made his office and lab. For four years he had Universe 1, a large room homing rats and mice alike. It was split into four spacious pens connected by ramps, each filled with rats. The thronging mass of rats produced an overpowering odour, it took a few minutes before anyone could breathe normally. After 4 years he moved away from the farm, in 1963 he produced his most famous creation, Universe 1. The worlds first mouse mortality-inhibiting-environment.

2.7 metres square with 1.4m high walls. The ‘Universe’ was surrounded by 16 tunnels leading to food, water and burrows. No predators, no scarcity, the mice would have to be blind to not see the utopia around them. That is how it started, Utopia. Then the mice, four breeding pairs in all, were introduced into Universe 1. After 104 days they adjusted to the new world and the population began to grow, doubling every 55 days. Day 315 and the population reached 620, then it stopped. The population grew much more slowly as the mice came against the limit of space, their only frontier.

Then the societal breakdown, young were expelled before they had been properly weaned and the attacking of young. Dominant males couldn’t defend their territory and females became more aggressive, non-dominant males became passive, not retaliating to attacks. The last healthy birth came on the 600th day. Then there were no children. Then came extinction.

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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in Articles

 

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